Conferences for Community Managers in 2019

Chairs in a conference room

As per every job, it’s important to be part of a network of like minded and professionals with similar skills. What are the conferences for community managers, leaders and builders worthwhile attending in 2019?

** Note: this is a work-in-progress post, as several events will be announced during the next months. I’ll keep the post updated **

Confirmed events

FOSDEM Community DevRoomFebruary 3, Brussels, Belgium: Every year, thousands of developers of free and open source software from all over the world gather at the event in Brussels. This year I was part of the Program Committee ;)

DevRelCon Tokyo, March 9, Tokyo, Japan: a conference about developer relations, developer experience, developer community, APIs and developer marketing. Part of the DevRelCon circuit.

DevRelCon San Francisco, June 6 and 7, San Francisco, California: This is THE annual San Francisco Bay area conference for Developer Relations and Developer Experience practioners! This is the conference where you can meet and learn from your community of dev advocates, community managers, team managers, dev marketers, and people in many roles that share DevRel and DX responsibilities in support, docs, engineering, product, partner engineering, BD, marketing, customer success, and more. Part of the DevRelCon circuit.

TheCR Connect, September 23-25, Boston, MA: TheCR Connect is exclusively for community practitioners – those engaged in the development, implementation, management, and measurement of community initiatives. You might be a community manager for a 5,000 person internal community, the community specialist at a start-up, or the director of community for a Fortune 500 brand. TheCR Connect is a vendor-free event to ensure that open conversations can happen between community practitioners.

Conferences likely to happen

Community Leadership Summit, Likely July, Portland, Oregon: The Community Leadership Summit brings together community leaders, organizers and managers and the projects and organizations that are interested in growing and empowering a strong community. The event pulls together the leading minds in community management, relations and online collaboration to discuss, debate and continue to refine the art of building an effective and capable community.

Swarm Conference, Likely August, Melbourne, Australia: Founded by practitioners, Australia’s flagship community management conference connects local builders, thinkers, managers and makers with top international talent for two days of learning, collaboration, inspiration and outcomes.

CMX Summit, Likely October, Portland, Oregon: Communities change the world. Over 3 days, CMX Summit seeks to expand discussions, techniques, and tactics applied to community building for businesses and support communities and their builders (you!) at scale. You’ll gain insights from the best in the industry and make lifelong friends.

Open Source Summit Europe, Likely October, Edinburgh, UK: the leading conference for developers, architects and other technologists – as well as open source community and industry leaders – to collaborate, share information, learn about the the latest technologies and gain a competitive advantage by using innovative open solutions – Community Leadership Conference

DevRelCon London, Likely November, London: DevRelCon and DevXcon is an international series of conferences for people who build developer communities and developer experiences. Part of the DevRelCon circuit.

Are you Italian?

If you’re a community manager, living in Italy, join the Italian Community Managers group, as we organize several event across the year, included 2 main conferences in Milan and Rome, to discuss about these topics.

Other resources

There is also a list of upcoming DevRel-related events maintained by Mary, with big conferences and smaller meetups. And DevRel often crosses with community management, you know ;)

Any other important occasion missing in this list?

The Community Canvas for GDG

GDG Community Canvas

When a community movement is worldwide spread, like Google Developers Group is, maintain a good balance between a common identity and local differences is essential keep the “sense of belonging” among the chapter leads, while leaving them the freedom to be successful interpreting the local context. But what defines that common identity? I created a GDG Community Canvas to explore and understand that.

The Community Canvas by Fabian Pfortmüller is, for a community, what the Business Model Canvas is for a company. While the latter is a visual chart with elements describing a firm’s or product’s value proposition, infrastructure, customers, and finances (Wikipedia), the former is a framework to describe the underlying structure of a community, focussed on 3 main section: Identity, Experience and Structure. More info in the Community Canvas site, alongside with very useful guidebooks to understand each section and questions to drive its creation.

The process

Similar to the Community Commitment Curve exercise, I’ve asked to 70+ GDG leads to create their own Community Canvas, to check if a common picture about what a GDG is would have emerged and, if yes, what it would have been. In short: yes, there is one, and it’s very well defined!

We did the exercise during the annual community summits and, because defining the whole canvas could be overwhelming, we used a short version of it, called the Community Canvas MVC (Minimum Viable Community), still by Fabian, and working only on the “Identity” part, the most useful to provide an answer to my assumption.

The benefits of running such exercise in person with the community leads were multiple: first, it was an introspective journey they took, together, to better understand the reasons they do what they do. Gather around the same table younger and more experienced leads, to share and reflect about one passion that connected them all (they were there because they all run a GDG), fostered a stronger Sense of Community. Finally, it wasn’t Google telling them what a GDGs should be, they told each other, and based on their experiences.

We used simple design thinking techniques to co-create the GDG Community Canvas: first, we invited the leads to reflect about one of the element of the identity section, individually. Then, in group of four, they shared their learnings and discussed. Finally, they wrote down the main points on a template I provided them, to group all the thoughts emerged. We iterated for each of the identity section element: purpose, audience, values, goals. Finally, I went thru the findings, doing a little bit of summarizing. The whole exercise, in total, took a couple of hours.

The result

The follow maps describe what a Google Developer Group should be, and I pretty much agree with it.

Purpose: GDGs exist because they are local platforms for peer-to-peer sharing and learning of tech knowledge, expertise and ideas, for everyone and without discrimination. They create a space to socialise and get together with likeminded people interested in tech, enabling personal and career growth. They also aim to increase diversity in tech, creating a welcoming and safe environment. All with fun.

Audience: GDGs are for tech professionals with different level of expertise, interested in learning and sharing about Google technologies, and in giving back to the community. They’re also open to students, tech entrepreneurs and, in general, to all the people working with developers and / or with a technical background or passion about technologies. They host audiences of different ages and people close in terms of geographic location. They also welcome people interested in diversity and inclusion topics in the tech ecosystem.

Values: the most recurring values of GDG communities are about a social, technological and cultural inclusiveness, a continuous learning attitude of the members paired with a love for new technologies and a culture of sharing, a desire for personal growth, all enclosed in mutual respect and support. Diversity is present in many dimensions, from members background to knowledge level, including reasons to be part of the community to technologies, all to create a psychologically safe environment for everyone.
I particularly liked one of the point made: “learn, earn, serve”.

Goals: most common success factors for GDGs are the positive feedback from satisfied community members about the activity organized, the ability to share in an efficient and effective way knowledge and positive values of the community, being recognized as a valuable community and the reference point for Google technologies in the local ecosystem. Also the “creation factor” was mentioned: in term of new projects and ideas, community contribution to technologies: bugs, pull requests, feedback, etc. Success is also defined by more diversity in the event attendees, in term of gender and cultural background.
One group mentioned the increase of Community ROI, seen as Return of Interest, in term of more attendees to the events, more retention among attendees and more bonding capital among members.

Here the detailed results.

Next steps

It would be great to run the GDG Community Canvas exercise across different cultures, as my cohort was mostly from Europe. I suspect main points will be the same, with some interesting secondary differences. In addition, I left to the leads the pleasure of filling the other two sections (Experience and Structure) once home, with the rest of their community core groups, but it would have been interesting to go thru the whole canvas together. Nevertheless, several told me they’ve done, and it was very useful to better shape and share their idea of community and align their minds.

And you, GDG member or lead reading this article, do you find yourself and your community in this canvas? Please let me know, as I’m interested in every single feedback!

Strategies to increase community members involvement, ICM Summit

A recurring problem of every community manager is to keep community members involved with the community. During this talk I spoke about the Community Commitment Curve, a tool to identify a path of optimal engagement, composed by small progressive requests, helping members to be more and more active within the community. They were also concrete examples of the Curve, for online and offline communities.

(Talk in Italian)

(I

(Italian Community Managers Summit Rome, 10 November 2018)

The Community Commitment Curve for in-person communities

Community Commitment Curve

The Community Commitment Curve offers members a clear and progressive engagement journey in the community, from a total stranger position to a community organizer role (or other key roles). The concept is not new to community professionals, and it was described for the first time in 2012 by Douglas Atkin. If you want to know more, Carrie Melissa wrote a good article on it. For the Italian audience listening, Caterina Manzi from AirBnb also mentioned it during a talk at the Italian Community Managers Summit in 2018. It was interesting to see, compared to the original curve carved by Douglas, how much it has been improved and redefined over time.

Why the community commitment curve works

The whole community commitment curve idea is based on the fact that personal investment is an important contributor for the development of the Sense of Community, both for the “membership” and for the “shared emotional connection” aspects of it. People who donate more time and energy to an association will be more emotionally involved (remember, community is all about emotions). This social evidence opposes to what a newcomer can often find in a community environment: warm and welcoming people, useful content, but not clear call to action on how to contribute back to the community. It is not uncommon the only communicated message at in-person community events is “Help us to organize the next event”: clearly an overwhelming call for a person that just joined, or young members of the group.

The community commitment curve defines progressive, balanced asks community managers can make to their members, to keep them engaged and proactive, through a commitment journey composed by 4 main phases: discover, onboard, engage, lead.

Every ask is built on top of previous asks. And every task has an effort connected to its accomplishment. Of course, “invite / bring people at the event (engaging, effort 1)” requires, in absolute terms, an effort way bigger than “register for a community event (discovering, effort 2)”, but once a member is at the beginning of the engaging phase and has already actively advocated for the community, bring people at an event is a very natural follow-up step, and the personal perception of its effort is very low. This is the very core of the curve: makes “everything perceived easy” for member engaged with the community, while giving community managers a reproducible way to achieve this.
And this is also the reason effort “resets” at every phase.

The focus of a Community Commitment Curve

Every community is unique in its own way but, luckily, an initial community commitment curve can be drawn for communities sharing similar model and goals. Then it can be customized with unique aspects and rituals of the specific group. Giving my current job, supporting in-person dev communities interested in Google technologies across Europe, my focus was to find a curve for this kind of communities. And I did not alone, but asking to my Italian GDG community leaders to co-create, collectively, the curve, during the annual event we held with them.

Community Commitment Curve for in-person (offline) communities

Here a Community Commitment Curve for an in-person community, with the main objective to organize physical meetups and events around tech topics. The effort is on a scale from 1 to 3, where 1 is a very and 3 is the hardest.

Community Commitment Curve for in-person (offline) communities

The picture doesn’t have the best readability, so a spreadsheet with all the steps and the list also follows.

Discovering

  • Visit the community website landing page / social channel (effort 1)
  • Like a post on the community social channel (effort 1)
  • Search for the next community event (effort 1)
  • Send an info request about the community (effort 2)
  • Comment on community social channel or tag the community (effort 2)
  • Subscribe to the community social channel providing passive engagement, like Facebook, Twitter, etc (effort 2)
  • Register to a community event (effort 2)
  • Attend a community event for the first time (effort 3)

Onboarding

  • Stay and interact at the end of the event (free chats, aperitif, networking moment, etc, but without leaving the venue) (effort 1)
  • Leave feeback on a community event attended for the first time
  • Subscribe to the community channel providing active notifications to stay updated on future events and community news (Meetup.com, maling list, IM group chat, etc) (effort 1)
  • Collect community identity symbols (t-shirts, pins, stickers etc) (effort 1)
  • Spontaneous social media activity during the event about it (live tweet, sharing slides and thoughts etc) (effort 2)
  • Provide a feedback about the attended event (effort 2)
  • Help with the event logistics by chance (moving chair before / after the event, clean-up tables and venue, etc) (effort 2)
  • “Wear” community identity symbols (attach a stickers, wear a tshirt, etc) (effort 2)
  • Take active part to online discussion on community social channel after the event (effort 2)
  • Attend a community event for the second/third time (effort 3)
  • Propose topics for next community events (effort 3)
  • Attend an in-person social event after the meeting (dinner, free chats, etc, and outside of the venue) (effort 3)

Engaging

  • Refer the community / next events to peers (effort 1)
  • Invite / bring additional people during events (effort 1)
  • Suggest / connect with a potential speaker (effort 1)
  • Suggest / connect with a potential sponsor (effort 1)
  • Be a good source feedback (events execution, onboarding experience, social presence, image of the community during the events, etc) (effort 2)
  • Proactively offer help for event duties (attendees check-in, venue setup and tear down, move mics for questions, etc) (effort 2)
  • Consistently produce event follow-up (blogpost, recap, friction logs, etc) (effort 2)
  • Propose a talk for an event (effort 2)
  • Active contribution to a community side project (code projects, etc) (effort 2)
  • Help representing the community during broader events (booth at conferences, fairs, etc) (effort 3)
  • Promote events on social / real life (effort 3)
  • Curate the full social presence during events (effort 3)
  • Attend community events on regular basis (effort 3)
  • Proactive help with event logistic (venue setting, gadget distribution, speaker support etc) (effort 3)
  • Speak during an event (effort 3)
  • Introduce the community at the beginning of the event (effort 3)
  • Arrive at the events earlier to help with logistic (shop for the food for the networking part, visit and check the venue days before the event, etc) (effort 3)
  • Attend one or more core-org team meetings (effort 3)

Leading

  • Constantly finding speakers for events (effort 1)
  • Scout for new venues and make all the arrangements needed to run even there (effort 1)
  • Take care of the with audio / video task (effort 1)
  • Welcome speakers before the even and be their point of contact (effort 1)
  • Present the community to other community events (effort 2)
  • Help community in tasks required to sustain itself (site, analysis etc) (effort 2)
  • Lead the community social strategy (effort 2)
  • Propose and execute community improvement actions (greet new members, implement new features etc) (effort 2)
  • Be responsible for the full organization of one or more events (effort 2)
  • Be the point of contact between the community and the main sponsors (effort 2)
  • Co-define the community strategy and plans (effort 2)
  • Take care of transition from Onboarding to Engaging for new potential community leaders (effort 2)
  • Accept the co-organizer role (effort 3)
  • Identify and onboard new co-organizers (effort 3)
  • Lead the community governance in the co-organizers group (effort 3)
  • Step-up as the main community organizer (effort 3)

Next steps

The curve lacks with Carrie Melissa defined as emotional involvement, another parameter to consider together with the effort, to make the transitions between tasks even smoother. And no curve is perfect, of course, so I’ll integrate additional feedback over time. What’s yours? Do you think some tasks is missing? Please let me know and, in the meantime, feel free to use the Curve for your communities!

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

 

The most important community manager skill? Being able to ask!

Being able to effectively ask

There are a lot of resources out there describing what are the skills a community manager should have. Not a surprise, considering how many hats the job requires. But if I have to boil everything down to a single ability, from my experience that would be “being able to effectively ask“.

Community is a behavior-change agent. And nothing changes if it’s not challenged by questions. Because a community managers is the architect of their own community, and responsible for its success, they are the first one that has to ask for that change in behaviors needed to fulfilling the community goals. They can excel in all the other skills, but asking is what make possible to cross the last mile and achieve community success. I would say: “No ask, no party“.

There are, of course, different ways of asking, and the effective part is where all the other skills come in handy. Let’s consider the behavior of joining a community.
Among the many tactics to carry out this objective, a community manager can act in the front line and ask something like “Do you want to join my community?”. However, to be successful, they need to find the right people to reach, and the right time, tone and form to invite them. And there are also several ways to formulate the core question: give a context, explaining the benefits for that person in joining etc. Lot of skills are involved to align all these “rights”.

A less direct tactic, where the community manager is less visible, but still the mastermind behind the main question driving change, would be foster community promotion thru word-of-mouth, asking other members to ask new people to join. Those people won’t be reached directly from the community manager, but it was them influencing the process. Exercise influence, another important skill.

The community commitment curve is another tool that demonstrates how much questions are important for the success of a community: if a community manager doesn’t know what to ask to community members to keep them engaged step after step, new behavior influenced after new behavior influenced, engagement will decrease organically.

And so on, with plenty of other examples: here a community that has organized a dev conference because a community builder asked them. Here the email that lit the event:
The email that made DevFest Pisa possible
For the ones non-Italian, the email says, more or less “During these days, and after a conversation with one if your community managers while we both were in Krakow, I thought about you, and I thought GDG Pisa (the community name NdR) is ready to organize its first DevFest“.
Referring to additional skills required to be effective, it was her call to understand the maturity level of the community, make some preliminary chats to test the water and, only at the end, make the ask.
Still in this community context, when people ask me “How can I find new blood to help me run my in-person community?”, I often reply: “At the beginning or at the end of your event, ask people to help you moving chairs around. The ones volunteering will be good leads to get in touch and ask for additional help, this time for the community”.

This detailed community management case study highlights how much concrete and visible call to actions in the forum banner influenced behaviors and drove success in many important steps to improve the community.

Being able to effectively ask regards also process optimization. As Leslie wrote: “If you’re looking for bug reports and pull requests, encourage them in a few simple ways: Respond to bug reports quickly, ideally within 48 business hours, even if it’s just to let the reporter know you’re looking into it. If you’re asking for speakers, provide a list of events. If you’re asking for new organizer, provide a group where they can plug, a mentor, a guide to help them, everything to not leave them alone. Ask for feedback: provide steps to test and template for feedback for. What you have in mind may (and probably is) different from what others have. Set clear expectation for the kind of help to provide.

At the end, the functional unit of any community is dialogue. Open and ongoing dialogue transforms a loose group of people with a shared interest into a community that can share stories, support each other, and pursue collective goals. Have you ever had a true dialog _not_ starting with a question?

 

Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

Where community crosses the developer journey

Community and developer journey

A developer journey is the route between a developer with no knowledge of a technology and the same developer that feels confident to use it in production and actively share the expertise acquired. Offering a clear and gratifying journey is the key for fostering adoption of a technology. How can online and in-person communities help along the way?

What are the typical steps of a developer journey?

First, it’s important to define what are the main steps of the journey. Christian Betta points to four main moments: Exploration, Getting Started, Guidance and Reference. While Adam Seligman defines four similar steps: Connect, Engage, Adopt and Advocate. I like the latter more as they seem more generalist and the advocacy step beautifully closes the loop, so I’ll use those as reference.

Connect

Generate awareness and interest, get in touch with the technology for the first time
In-person communities are great to discover new technologies. It’s true that today “knowledge is at our fingertips”, but it doesn’t mean developers have the time, motivation or will to explore by themselves. Tech meetup events organized by communities help the discovery process, offering occasions to get in touch with something new with a low effort bar: just go to the event, sit down and listen. In addition, follow-up conversations during the event boost serendipity, as like-minded people generally love to talk about their passions.
In online communities, on the other hand, often developer joins because of their interest on specific topics (Q&A, product forums etc), so it’s more difficult to attract their attention about something new. However, if users are well profiled on the platform, it’s possible to reach them with targeted material regarding news and topics connected with their primary interests. Content able to add value from a dev point of view, to avoid being perceived it as spammy.

Engage

Gain hands-on experience, what follows the “Hello world” example
In-person communities can help in this step organizing specific hands-on events like hackathons, workshops, codelabs etc, where attendees can “get the hands dirty” with the technology and create a (first) working prototype. On average, communities organize way more tech talk-style events than these initiatives, so brands could provide specific support or global frameworks to influence the ecosystem to run more hands-on events. The Google Assistant Developer Community, IBM Call for Code, Intel Code for Good, Google Study Jams are good examples.
Online communities can help in the form of open source projects, thanks to a big code base to analyze to understand what’s after the “Hello World”, without starting from scratch. They also offers immediate and intrinsic rewards, like fixing a bug or implementing a new feature. Unfortunately, we all know the common Achilles heel of open source projects: lack of “onboarding” guidelines, poor documentation, few active mentors for the newcomers. All together, they raise a lot the difficulty bar, and not all developers are willing to learn this way.

Adopt

Drive daily use of a technology, in production
Once a dev knows the basics of a tech, the main need is to find answers to specific problems and learn advanced topics that could prevent future issues, like a well-done project architecture, a good testing infrastructure etc. Information that, generally, are not present in the reference doc.
In-person communities can organize events to share best practices and real-life experiences on technologies / tools / libraries / dev workflows, assuming the topic doesn’t have an overly niche audience. Peer-to-peer recommendation during networking moments are generally very welcome and more able to influence than a blogpost on the same topic. In-depth, follow-up conversations happening after the event can solve doubts.
In a complementary way, online communities are the most effective free place to find such answers. We all know the success of StackOverflow and similar services, and several major tech brands have an online presences based on the “Customer Support / Success” area of the SPACE model. The potential risk is that the place where this knowledge exchange happens is more a group than a community. Searchability of the content is another crucial aspect to solve: developers don’t search on StackOverflow, they search on Google that directs them to SO. Another issue is that discussions happening on Twitter have a very short time span.
Similar to the engage phase, open source online communities can offer a training gym outside the main job for experienced users of a technology, with more community-oriented dynamics.

Advocate

Empower and enable
Advocates are crucial to scale the knowledge sharing process thanks to user-generated contents (UGC) they create and erogate. But they need an audience to share them with. Both online and in-person communities offer that crucial audience element, closing the loop and creating new “connect” and “engage” moments in the developer journey of new people.
Likewise, online and in-person communities offer a fertile and informal ground to get in touch with existing advocates, be inspired by their role-models and, with the help of the community leads or even by themselves, become one of them.
Altruism is the top motivator for advocates, followed by intrinsic enjoyment: communities allow this give-back attitude to be satisfied.

 

So, community is really a powerful tool intersecting and contributing to the developer journey along all its steps. Not a surprise, in the end :)

Header photo by Helloquence on Unsplash